Nearly all ecommerce owners understand the value of SEO, but many overlook the impact that a site redesign can have.
We find that roughly ⅓ to ½ of all website relaunches do affect SEO negatively, at least initially. In some cases, a poorly-thought-out relaunch means the site can never recover its SEO!
The solution isn’t avoiding a needed redesign but rather considering SEO closely as part of the effort. By taking careful precautions and preparatory steps before a relaunch, you can guard against a painful downgrade.
In this article, we lay out some of the most common SEO issues we see ecommerce sites experience during redesigns, revamps and as well as an initial launch.
We’re taking it as a given that you know how important it is to build and preserve SEO “juice” (if not read this 3rd-party article). What you may not realize is just how impactful “slight” changes can be, particularly with URL’s:
- Organic SEO rankings are inextricably linked to the specific URL of each page on your website.
- Changing the taxonomy of a URL, or even a single character in the URL, makes Google see that page as a brand new page that has never been indexed.
- Carefully following best practices for URLs is a baseline requirement for good SEO
Enough intro already! Let’s dive in.
Easy SEO Mistakes to Avoid and Beneficial Changes to Keep in Mind:
URL Structure Changes
Organic rankings are tied to the specific URL of each page. Changing the taxonomy of a URL, or even a single character of it makes that a brand-new page that has never been seen by the search engines before. Inbound links are associated with specific URL’s as well, meaning that when you create new version of that page, none of the link equity automatically follows. If you’re changing platforms this is especially crucial as many ecommerce platforms create new directory pathways or alter URL extensions.
What to Do About it
If your URL’s or page taxonomy is changing, ensure that you’re using 301 redirects to let search engines know that there is a new version of the page. This will automatically redirect both visitors and search engine crawlers who access the old URL. Additionally, this will transfer most of your link equity from the old page to the new one.
The Wrong Redirect
Platforms (and developers) will often default to using a 302 (temporary) redirect rather than a 301 (permanent) redirect. Both redirects will accomplish the same thing for a visitor, but Google looks at them differently. The common belief is that a 301 redirect passes link equity while a 302 does not (because it’s temporary). In all fairness, Google’s Gary Illyes came out last year and said that a 302 redirect passes the same equity as a 301 in a July 26th, 2016 Tweet. Many in the SEO community don’t quite buy that yet.
What to Do About it
Check, check and double check. Make the redirects work for a visitor and a search engine. A tool like Redirect-Checker.org will show the actual request and tell you if a URL redirect is a 301 or 302. Screaming Frog is another easy way to mass check URL’s for the redirect status code. Even if Gary is right, why chance it? Don’t set your redirects to 302 unless it really is a temporary situation.
Top level and Footer Navigation Changes
Just like an inbound link from another website can add equity to your site, internal links in your site can play a similar role. Think of your navigation in both the header and footer as the circulatory system of your site. Changing the navigation and internal linking structure is akin to changing the layout of your own veins and arteries.
What to Do About it
Put in the time upfront and map out the current state of your site. Look at where internal links are coming from for your pages if you’re changing the navigations. Use Screaming Frog or your other favorite tool to check the crawl path report on URL’s if you really want to be diligent. Know that pages losing a large portion of their internal links could have issues being crawled and indexed or lose some of their equity.
Title Tag, Content and Data Migration
A redesign is hectic on any site, an ecommerce website exponentially complicates that process. With so many moving parts it’s easy to sideline seemingly smaller things and tell yourself that you’ll worry about it once the site is live. Title tags, meta descriptions, headings, content and structured data shouldn’t be one of those things. Whatever SEO prowess the top level, category and product pages have right now is directly influenced by the meta data and content that’s present. Launching a redesigned site without the same data and information in place is a recipe to see organic rankings drop.
What to Do About it
Just like mapping redirects, put the time in up front. Use something like a MOZ crawl test or Screaming Frog to get a full picture of all page titles, meta descriptions, H1’s and subheadings and structured data. Make sure that you’re
Example 1, What Not to Do:
New Site Launch Date Dec 2016
This Google Analytics snapshot is of an online retailer in the software industry that redesigned their outdated site into a new platform. The plan was to recreate the site exactly as it had always been, but move it to a new more user friendly platform.
This is a textbook case of forgetting about 301 redirects completely in launching a new site. Aside from the home page, every single URL of a 5,000+ page website changed, but Google couldn’t follow them. To add fuel to the fire, category and product level title tags and meta descriptions weren’t moved to the new site either.
Example 2, Make it Through Unscathed
New Site Launch Date: Feb 2017
A men’s online clothing retailer migrated from an outdated ecommerce platform into an enterprise CMS. The site had far outgrown the outdated site built in Pearl and was ready for a more professional solution.
The entire URL structure of this site changed as did the navigation, adding faceted search and eliminating several lower margin brands. The client started prepping launch several months in advance and had established a solid redirect strategy, migrated meta data and structured a robots.txt file to address faceted search functions. They experienced temporary dip in organic traffic due to the massive change in taxonomy but recovered almost fully within 60 days.
Example 3: Slingshot
This company sells and supports several thousand downloadable course products and had been operating for several years on a home-grown CMS that was non-mobile friendly and unable to scale with growth.
This company took 6 months to plan for the launch of the new site and in that time mapped out several thousand new redirects, redid the navigation to improve indexing and crawl budgeting and improved the load the speed. At launch, they experienced a few weeks of minor instability, followed by a continual upward trend that has continued.
A redesign is an exciting time for an ecommerce business.
Top 5 SEO considerations when launching or redesigning an ecommerce store:
- Get a 100% complete and clear picture of your current site as soon as you know you’ll doing a redesign. On page elements, navigation, content and links. Invest in some tools if you need to.
- Create a clear page structure and taxonomy for the new site. Document what’s staying, what’s going and what will be new.
- Map out all your 301 redirects as soon as you can. They’ll likely change the as the vision of the new site evolves and it’s better to alter the redirect mapping as you go rather than wait until things are solidified and then start.
- Get your tech straight. Take all existing rel canonical tags, schemas and robots.txt get them documented and moved to the new site. Take into account changes in internal search or new navigations that might require alterations.
- Whether you’ve hired an agency or area completing the process in house, insist on making SEO a priority. The project should be a collaborative effort and, if SEO isn’t at the forefront of mind, there won’t be anyone coming to the site to experience the new UX.
Redesigning any website, particularly an ecommerce site, is perhaps the single biggest threat to the site’s successful SEO. This article lays out common issues and how to resolve them, to avoid a dangerous and potentially deadly downgrade in SEO following your next relaunch.